Tuesday, November 28, 2006

FOREST FROM THE TREES Kos has up a great post about the idiocy--there's no other word for it--of NARAL, the League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club. A snippet:
Had NARAL gotten it's way, and had their endorsed candidate in Rhode Island [Sen. Lincoln Chafee R-RI] won his race, Republicans would've held the Senate and Chafee would've voted for [Sen. Mitch McConnell R-KY] for majority leader.

Chafee's seat was the difference between a Choice-friendly Democratic majority, and a Senate led by one of the most anti-choice demagogues in D.C. That's the calculation NARAL made, and thankfully, their gambit failed. The people of Rhode Island bailed NARAL out of their own stupidity.
To be clear: I'm not saying left-leaning issue groups should never endorse Republican candidates. And I'm sympathetic to the desire of groups like NARAL to project a bipartisan image--they have a legitimate interest in trying to get their causes to be seen as transcending party affiliation.

But context matters. And in this election, a vote for Chafee was a vote for McConnell (NARAL rating: 0 of 100) to be Majority Leader. It was a vote for global warming denier Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) to be Chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works.

Pretending otherwise was both counterproductive and obnoxious.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

DIVIDED TIMES Here's how Liesl Schillinger opens her 3200 word review of AGAINST THE DAY, which begins on the front page of tomorrow's Book Review:
In "Against the Day," his sixth, his funniest and arguably his most accessible novel, Thomas Pynchon doles out plenty of vertigo, just as he has for more than 40 years. But this time his fevered reveries and brilliant streams of words, his fantastical plots and encrypted references, are bound together by a clear message that others can unscramble without mental meltdown. Its import emerges only gradually, camouflaged by the sprawling absurdist jumble of themes that can only be described as Pynchonesque.
Here's the first sentence of Michiko Kakutani's take, which appeared in The Times on Monday:
Thomas Pynchon’s new novel, "Against the Day," reads like the sort of imitation of a Thomas Pynchon novel that a dogged but ungainly fan of this author's might have written on quaaludes.

Friday, November 24, 2006

THE CASE AGAINST SUSAN COLLINS The recent election gave lefties a once-a-decade jolt: The good guys won, the Republican party got the throttling it deserved, and even candidates who once seemed unbeatable--Sen. George Allen (R-VA) and Rep. Clay Shaw (R-FL) come to mind--went down to defeat.

But as election night unfolded, as Democrats soared ahead in one tough congressional district after another and hung close in places like Wyoming and Idaho, one bad result seemed like a real head-scratcher: Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) absolutely obliterated her Democratic opponent, capturing 74% of the vote and winning by a staggering 53% points. (Hillary Clinton, by contrast, won her race by 36%.)

With candidates to the left of Snowe garnering 90% of the senate vote in nearby Connecticut, it was hard not to see Snowe's landslide win as a missed opportunity. That Snowe was able to win in a walk seemed even more unfortunate once we learned that only a single Republican congressman had survived in New England.

So, how did a Republican in Maine--a state, keep in mind, that Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) carried by a solid nine points--win in a breeze as her GOP colleagues succumbed left and right?

The answer probably has something to do with the strength of Snowe's opponent--I haven't looked closely at how that campaign developed, and won't do so here. I'm more interested in the factor that likely kept the race from becoming competitive in the first place: Namely, that Snowe is widely perceived, even on the left, as a different kind of Republican--an independent-minded, fiscally conservative, socially moderate centrist who bucks her party when it veers too far to the right.

It's a great niche for a blue state Republican. But the facts are a little more complicated.

Yes, Snowe is pro-choice, supports stem cell research, and has a not-terrible record on environmental issues.

But she also voted for Bush's irresponsible, budget-busting 2001 and 2005 tax cuts.

As recently as June 2006, with the federal debt soaring to record levels, she supported permanently repealing the estate tax.

Snowe voted for the bankruptcy bill, against repealing tax subsidies for companies that move US jobs offshore, and for allowing lobbyists to continue to make some gifts to Congress.

She voted in favor of Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court and 'Yes' on a flag burning amendment to the constitution.

She voted to authorize the use of military force against Iraq.

These votes and others earned Snowe 78% ratings in 2005 from both the US Chamber of Commerce and the hard-right Concerned Women for America.

So: A liberal Republican maverick? Or a solid Bush ally who has made a few head-fakes toward the center?

It may seem, at this point, like an academic question. But it isn't: Maine will face a similar choice in 2008, when Snowe's Republican colleague Sen. Susan Collins is on the ballot.

Collins sided with Snowe on all of the above-referenced votes.

Of course, the two senators don't have identical candidate profiles--for example, Collins voted in favor of Bush's 2003 $350 billion tax cut for the wealthy, which Snowe opposed. She also backed the President's torture-embracing military commissions bill, a vote which Snowe managed to skip.

(Collins also strikes me as the weaker public speaker of the two, and the less charismatic.)

But Collins, like Snowe, has cast herself in the role of the thoughtful moderate, even though a few minutes poking around the web reveals that the record is a bit muddier.

Will progressives make defeating Collins a priority in 2008? Or will we cede another blue state senate seat to the GOP?

If Democrats learned one thing in 2006, let's hope it's that even strong GOP candidates can be beaten when Democrats mount serious challenges.

KRAUTHAMMER IS SICK He's got to be if he's willing to sign his name to this article, an opinion piece whose theme is that American Jews are lucky to be living in the US:
Look. Harry Truman used to tell derisive Jewish jokes. Richard Nixon said nasty things about Jews in government and elsewhere. Who cares? Truman and Nixon were the two greatest friends of the Jews in the entire postwar period: Truman secured them a refuge in the state of Israel and Nixon saved it from extinction during the Yom Kippur War.
Krauthammer's worldview: Zionism excuses racism.

DAY ONE Kevin Drum is right. Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is smart to hit the ground running:
[Nancy] Pelosi plans to start the 110th Congress with a bang on Jan. 4 — when the House holds its ceremonial swearing in and elects her as speaker — by immediately setting off on a sprint of several weeks to enact the Democrats' ambitious 100-hour agenda.

Lawmakers usually return home between the swearing-in ceremony and the president's speech, but analysts say the hurried schedule gives Democrats a chance to show instant results. It could also put Bush on the defensive, forcing him to sign or veto a host of popular initiatives.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

IRAQ: THE EARLY YEARS Brad DeLong quotes two long excerpts from an excellent New York Review of Books article on the early days of the Iraq war here and here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

COLD CALLING This is just wrong.

ROBERT ALTMAN The director of MASH, THE LONG GOODBYE, NASHVILLE, SHORT CUTS, THE PLAYER and GOSFORD PARK died yesterday. The New York Times has a long-ish obit up here.

Friday, November 17, 2006

MAC SERVICE Our family Mac laptop recently found itself in need of a new screen. (Let's not get into the details.)

Apple wanted something like $900--which, at this point, is probably the street value of the three-year-old machine. But MacService said they'd replace it for $375. So we gave them a shot.

They sent us a shipping box--overnight--via DHL. We packed up the computer and took it to a DHL drop-off: The package arrived at MacService the following day, and within hours the screen was replaced and the computer reshipped. It arrived at our door two days later.

(Yes, all the shipping was included in the $375 price.)

They still probably made a killing. But it was a good deal for us--now, at least, we don't have to buy a new laptop.

Which, I suppose, is what Apple was hoping.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

HOYER FOR LEADER I don't know that much about Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) or Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA). But I've seen enough of Murtha to know that Hoyer would be a better choice for Majority Leader.

Don't get me wrong: Murtha deserves a lot of credit for focusing the Iraq debate and for enunciating a position that many elected officials favored but few were ready to support publicly.

Putting Murtha in a leadership role would also have the benefit of underscoring just how much Democrats continue to differ with the Bush administration on Iraq--at a time when the Bushies are eager to blur the differences.

But the qualities that led Murtha to lead on Iraq--the willingness to buck his peers; his use of headline-grabbing language--are the same qualities that would make him a weak leader. The leader's role, after all, is to cobble together a consensus within his caucus, and to smooth out differences. A majority leader needs to be a bridge-builder, not a crusader.

(Murtha has also come under fire for unseemly behavior--and Democrats can ill-afford ethical lapses from the incoming leadership.)

It's becoming increasingly clear that a loss for Murtha will be interpreted as a significant setback for Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). That's unfortunate. But it's not so unfortunate that the likely media reaction ought to be a central issue in the leadership election.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

TURNING THE PAGE If you're in the mood, Kos has up a great
post about the 2008 senate landscape. The key point to keep in mind:
In two years, Republicans will be defending 21 seats, to 12 of our own.
Those are some very attractive numbers for Democrats.

WHERE'S CONDI? Been a quiet couple of days for the Secretary of State.

Maybe she's resting--looks like it will be a busy January for Rice up on Capitol Hill.

Attorney General Gonzales is another administration official who might be advised to take some time off. After the new year, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) will probably have a couple-few questions for the AG. And something tells me Conyers won't be accepting written answers.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

ONE MAN ONE VOTE Brad DeLong informs us that Democrats won the combined total of all senate races last night by about 6,500,000 votes--for a 13.4% overall advantage.

I'd call that a rout.

GEORGE BUSH ABRIDGED I lied about Rumsfeld's job security for your own good.

WHAT'S NEXT There will be lots of talk, in the coming days, about healing, coming together and a new opportunity for bipartisan consensus. There was a nauseating amount of it last night on the cable news networks.

But it's all nonsense. Last night the President was delivered an electoral spanking. The Republican party was delivered a thrashing. There are a number of races still to be decided, but so far it appears that not a single Democratic senator, congressman or governor lost last night. Democrats gained seats across the board.

(I'd be curious to know how far down the ballot you have to go to find an incumbent Democrat who got the short straw--there's got to be a state auditor out there somewhere.)

So the country didn't vote for compromise and conciliation last night. It voted for a change of direction. It voted for the grown-ups to be put back in charge. And it voted for someone to push back against our incompetent, law-breaking President.

Democrats need to remember that.

IN SUM Yesterday at work I got into a heated debate with a representative from one of the huge, multinational banks. Arguing the advantages of one of her company's financial instruments over US Treasury securities, she made the following case:

If Bank [X] winds up having to break its financial promises, the United States government is almost certain to be in the same position. But even if the US goes under, our bank may well survive. So the smart thing to do is to park your money with us.

I pounced: Was she really trying to say that she considered Bank [X] a more stable institution than the United States of America? Was she actually arguing that trusting Bank [X] with our company's funds was a safer bet than trusting the full faith and credit of the United States Treasury?

The argument struck me as not just specious but offensive. You're not going to get anywhere with me, as a customer, by essentially calling my country a banana republic.

As best as I can recall, it was only the second time in the last two years I found myself unabashedly and vociferously defending the honor and integrity of the United States--at this blog and elsewhere, I and other lefties have spent much more of our mental energy picking at the current regime's flaws.

But the debate with the bank representative was (corny as it sounds) a reminder that all that poking and prodding has been in the spirit of loyalty to the United States, a profound respect for its traditions. These last two depressing years, lefties really believe we've been busy with the business of saving the country--not burying it.

And lefties were rewarded for that work and that belief last night.

We're not out of the woods yet. But there's reason to believe that the darkest days of the Bush administration are behind us.

The slow march toward illiberalism and lawlessness has stalled.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

HOUSE THREAD 5:55pm--Read this thread from the top down.

The cheat sheet below references a 7pm closing time for Indiana and Kentucky, but some polling places will close in those states at 6pm ET. So we may get some results just after the hour, although you wouldn't know it from watching the networks. And I haven't been able to confirm it.

More in a few minutes.

6:05--Looks like I was right--no IN or KY results in sight. Seems we'll have to wait till 7pm.

6:42--Results are coming in in KY.

6:52--Yarmuth (D) up 1000 votes in KY's crucial 3rd district with 15% reporting.

7:04--Yarmuth (D) still up--but only 2200 votes with 37% reporting.

7:06--Ellsworth (D) way up in the early going in Indiana's 8th district.

Donnelly (D) up 8000+ votes in Indiana's 2nd with 26% reporting. Dems need this seat and at least early, it looks good.

7:32--Yarmuth still up--by a bit more than 1000 votes with 68% reporting. Still the only race with a substantial portion of votes in.

7:59--Ellsworth wins in Indiana's 8th (!) according to Fox News. First pick-up for Dems.

8:05--Yarmuth holding onto an almost 4000 vote lead in KY, with 81% reporting. Hang on.

8:17--In Indiana's 3rd, Souder (R) holds a slight lead in the early-going. Hill (D) leads early in the 9th. Link.

8:42--Still nothing resembling a surprise has happened. But Lucas (D) has been closing the gap with Davis (R) in KY's 8th district. If Lucas were to come out on top, that would bode awfully well for Dems.

9:04--Negron up by about 1000 votes in Mark Foley's seat in FL. 40% reporting.

9:21--To recap: Still no real upsets or even minor surprises. Dems seem to be on track for a good number of pick-ups, but it's far from clear that they'll win big--or even that they'll get the 15 they need for control of the House.

9:24--Yarmuth wins in Kentucky's 3rd district, according to CNN. MSNBC agreees. Appears that he won by 3%--with 100% reporting. The biggest House win for Democrats so far.

9:43--Donnelly (D) over incumbent Rep. Chocola in Indiana's 2nd. The prospects of a wave build...

9:52--Buchanan (R) holds in Florida's 13th, according to Fox News. To the best of my knowledge, this is the first hotly-contested race of any kind (including gubernatorial) that Repbulicans have been able to hold. So I think it's safe to say that a 45+ seat Democratic wave is off the table at this point.

That said, Shaw (R) is in deep trouble in the FL 22nd. And that's very worrisome for the GOP.

10:04--Rahm Emanuel steps onto MSNBC to call the IN-09, CT-05 and NH-02--all for the Dems. That comes to 5 seats for Dems by my count [correction--six]. That's 1/3 of the way there.

10:15--Space (D) wins in the OH-18 and Sherwood (R) goes down in the PA 10th.

That makes it eight seats: KY-03, IN-08, IN-02, IN-09, CT-05, NH-02, OH-18 and PA-10.

10:26--Worth mentioning at this point that it's becoming increasingly difficult to see how the Republicans could hold the House.

10:29--Fox News says Arcuri (D) wins in NY 24th. That's big--it means more Republicans are likely to fall in NY.

10:54--Daily Kos is calling PA-07 for Sestak (D). That makes 10 seats by my count.

11:00--Shuler (D) wins in NC-11, Klein (D) beats Shaw in FL-22 and in AZ-08 Giffords (D) wins. That puts us at 13 pick-ups for the Dems.

11:05--Bill Kristol predicts a 30 seat net gain for Dems. Meanwhile, Reynolds (R) holds on in NY's 26th--according to Fox News. He has survived, but not a good night for him has RSCC chair.

11:07--Gillibrand wins in NY-20. Call it 14.

11:12--Mahoney (D) wins in FL-16 (Foley's old seat.) By my count that makes it 15--although no one is calling it yet. But they're not including all the seats named by Rahm Emanuel.

11:27--The networks are now calling it. Seems like we're on our way toward a big night for the Dems--perhaps 25+ seats.

12:12--Getting ready to call it a night. Lots to celebrate and to think about. We're now at 20 seats, and the margin is likely to rise at least a bit more.

SENATE THREAD 5:53pm--Gearing up. Read this thread from the top down. We'll be checking in all night.

7:08--Say hello to Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT).

7:52--Webb down early in VA. He's stronger in the north, where results are expected later rather than earlier.

8:02--Webb pulls slightly ahead in early-going. Good news for him to be up this early given that urban districts tend to lag in their reporting.

8:14--Daily Kos says that Sherrod Brown (D) has unseated Senator Mike DeWine in Ohio. Expected, but the first pick-up of the night for Dems in the senate.

8:27--Santorum goes down--so says MSNBC. That's two.

8:38--That was fast: CNN and Fox News are calling NJ for Menendez. Phew. Does it bode well for Dems?

9:12--Lieberman wins? So says MSNBC.

9:18--Cardin wins in MD, according to MSNBC. Good news for Democrats that it could be called with so few votes counted.

9:57--According to Drudge, Webb seems to be closing in VA: Down about 3000 votes with about 12% to go. Hold on tight.

10:47--Michael Barone on Fox News says VA senate race may be headed for a recount--a finish with less than .5% difference between the candidates, according to David Shuster on MSNBC.

10:57--Webb down by just under 14,000 votes with 4.5% of precincts left to report.

11:09--Webb cuts the lead to 12,500 with 3.7% remaining.

11:22--Allen lead cut to 7700 with 2.7% of precincts remaining. Yowser.

11:28--Allen lead down to about 4700 votes with approximately 2.6% of precincts to go.

11:49--Allen lead trickling down to 3200 with 2.3% of precincts remaining.

11:53--Webb up in VA by 2500 votes with 1% remaining? So says CNN, but those numbers are running ahead off the official-unofficial count. Hmm...

12:20--Webb remains up 2000+ votes with 100% reporting. We're in recount territory, and I'm off to bed.

FISHY BUSINESS If you see anything untoward today at the polls, call 1-866-OUR VOTE. Spread the word.

REGARDING CONCESSIONS Before things kick into high gear later today, a few words about the peculiar ritual that is the televised concession speech, and why it seems like a pernicious tradition on a couple of related levels:

First, it implies to the unsophisticated viewer that trailing candidates are in a position to declare the election over in the same way that cornered chess players resign. And that's just not how it works in a modern democracy: There are laws, rules and procedures to be followed.

So while it may be politically expedient for likely losers to trot out before the cameras minutes after the polls close, that doesn't mean that election workers will stop their tallying or that judges will refuse to hear voting rights challenges. The candidate's decision to say, "I stand down" can't--and shouldn't--derail those processes.

Relatedly, there's a reason why a candidate's election night declarations are more or less beside the point: In elections, it's the rights of voters that are paramount and the rule of law that must be vindicated. And yet the concession ritual reinforces the media-fueled fantasy that it's the interests of the candidates--their clashing personalities, their competing career prospects--that are the most critical thing at stake.

So tonight, at least in close races, I hope candidates have the sense to wait in their hotel rooms and to keep their mouths shut. We all know that the networks are eager to "call" the races as soon as possible (another meaningless exercise) but that doesn't mean politicians should play along.

IMITATION, FLATTERY, ETC. But couldn't they have picked someone other than John Fund?

Friday, November 03, 2006

ON THE LINE It's not the only thing at stake next Tuesday. But one of the questions voters need to ask themselves is whether they think the current congressional leadership is doing a decent job of keeping the executive branch in check.

In other words, should we give people like Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) the power to issue subpeonas and hold administration officials to account? Or should we let the Bushies continue to get away with this crap?

Nadler : Well, do we claim the authority to render someone to another country--let's assume we believe they're not going to use torture--by what right do we, legal right, do we pick someone up at an airport and deny him the right to continue to Canada which is where he's a citizen of, and send them to Syria without any kind of administrative or judicial process?

Gonzales : Well, I'm not comment[ing] as to what actually may have happened or may not have--

Nadler : Do we claim the right to do that? Whatever happened in that case, is that something we claim the right to do?

Gonzales : I don't know, but I would be happy to get back to you on that.

Nadler: You don't know if we claim the right to do that because the Government defended that in court, your Department defended that in court.

Gonzales : Before I comment any further on that, Congressman, I'd like the opportunity to get back to you.

Nadler : Okay. And let me further ask, since we have done this, and since your Department has defended this in court...is this practice limited only to airports, or do we claim the right to take people going about their business, walking on the street, grocery shopping, window shopping, at the mall, suddenly and unexpectedly to grab them and to deport them to places like Syria without any evidence, without any due process? Do we claim that right? And if we don't claim that right, why do we claim it at airports?

Gonzales : Mr. Congressman, I'm not going to get into specific, what we do, what we don't do. What I can say is that we understand what our legal obligations are, we follow the law.

Nadler: Let me ask you the last question then. Can you assure this Committee that the United States Government will not grab anybody at an airport or anyplace in U.S. territory, and send them to another country without some sort of due process?

Gonzales: Well, what I can tell you is that we're going to follow the law in terms of what--

Nadler: Well, does the law permit us to send someone to another country without any due process, without a hearing before an administrative, an immigration judge or somebody? Just grab them off the street and put them on a plane, goodbye without--we've done that. Does the law permit us to do that? Do we claim that right?

Gonzales: I'm not going to confirm that we've done that.

ELECTION NIGHT PLANS As I mentioned in 2004: One of the things that's frustrating about televised election night coverage is that, after spending months focusing almost exclusively on the horse race, the networks do an abysmal job of reporting that race's results.

So at CONTRAPOSITIVE, our attention on election night will be fixed on the raw results that the networks are likely to spend most of the evening shunting aside and misunderstanding.

We may even pull out our near-empty rolodex of media and political contacts in a bid to get the inside scoop and pass it along.

Come by early and stay late.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

GEORGE BUSH ABRIDGED Rumsfeld now, Rumsfeld tomorrow, Rumsfeld forever.

GEORGE BUSH ABRIDGED If only John Kerry would stop distracting me by saying stupid things, I might actually get around to capturing Osama Bin Laden, securing the homeland and pacifying Iraq.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.